The Baker Orange

Football preview: defense

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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Here’s an in-depth look at the defense for the 2015 Wildcat football team.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Baker’s defense has dominated the conference over the past two seasons. The front seven will return a lot of talent, but the main question mark is in the secondary.

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“If you ask me one question on our football team and I say ‘I don’t know,’ it’s our secondary,” head football coach Mike Grossner said. “I truly don’t until we get through camp and play the first game when they’re challenged by a very good football team.”

One of the strengths of the Wildcats’ defense over the past two seasons was the secondary. Baker lost three of its starting four defensive backs from 2014. Gunnar McKenna, Duane Sims and Mike Stevenson started all 11 games last season and all 13 games in 2013. The Baker pass defense limited opponents to fewer than 200 yards per game over the past two seasons and finished 19th in pass defense last season at 171.6 yards per game.

Stevenson finished seventh in the NAIA in interceptions in 2014 with six. He picked off the opposing quarterbacks 14 times over his 44 games in four seasons. McKenna averaged 35.5 tackles per season in 39 games. Sims played two seasons at Baker and averaged 55.5 tackles per game and had five interceptions.

The lone returning defensive back is senior Avery Parker. Parker played in 10 games in 2014 and in all 13 games in 2013. He will be grouped with a revamped secondary that will likely feature players like junior Alex Baird and sophomore Hayden Jenkins, who both saw limited playing time in 2014.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Baker’s defensive front took some of the worst of the injuries in 2014, but still continued to dominate the NAIA and the Heart of America. The Orange Crush defense finished eighth nationally in scoring defense at 18.5 points per game and ninth nationally and first in the conference in rush defense at 110 yards per game.

“We’re deep up front and we have a great D-line. I think we’ll be able to get good pressure on every play,” senior linebacker Tucker Pauley said. “You’ve still got to still cover guys, but with them running around everywhere it’s going to really help us out.”

Missouri Valley’s 40 sacks in the conference bested Baker’s 26 sacks in 2014. Andre Jolly added 8.5 of those sacks last season and holds Baker’s all-time record for sacks in a career with 33, including 16 in 2012.

Other than the loss of Jolly, the defensive line returns strong. Juniors Adam Novak and Nick Becker both look to continue their strong careers in their third season as starters at defensive end.

“They’re both hard workers and they’re not going to take any plays off. They have motors like crazy,” Pauley said. “Becker’s not going to get moved and Novak’s going to come at you every single play.”

In the trenches Josh Kock aided Baker down the stretch last season as he emerged onto the scene with 64 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks.

“Kock’s a great player and a hard worker, very hard worker,” Pauley said. “He’s an animal in the weight room and an animal on the field. He’s fast. He weighs 270 and can keep up with me, almost, out there.”

Junior Nick Shondell and seniors Ben Seybert and Myron Tipton will also be important pieces up front after 28 combined tackles in 2014. Tipton will also serve as Baker’s long snapper.

LINEBACKERS

Backing up the defensive line will be a strong linebacker corps including Pauley, who led Baker in tackles as a sophomore with 89. In 2014, Pauley made 81 tackles, but finished second behind Keith Loneker Jr. After just one season at Baker, Loneker decided to transfer to the University of Kansas to play for the Jayhawks. Loneker’s 90 tackles will have to be replaced in the middle of the defense and that will likely be done with junior Kharon Brown serving as the middle linebacker.

“With coach Thoren’s system on defense, everybody can be replaced,” Pauley said. “We have good guys coming up and stepping in.”

OUTLOOK

The one weakness in the first few games may be the secondary. If the front seven can help the secondary through the first two to three games, Baker’s defense could become one of the best in the conference.